Peter Singer, Abortion and the Age of Reason


If you believe in evolution, that means you believe that as a species, the goal of everything we homosapiens do must be to ensure the survival of our species. If you are a ‘naturalist’ it means you do not believe anything supernatural exists (no God, no angels, no spirits no soul). If you believe both you are a Evolutionary Naturalist, which I would say is most Atheists.

This would mean that we have no reason to care about any other plant, animal or thing except for how it benefits us as a species. So we don’t want to kill off an animal or plant that is useful to us, but only because it will help our species. 

Peter Singer is a philosopher who tries to make the claim that we should extend our ethics about human beings to animals. He says that we kill animals because they are of lower intelligence and are not self aware, therefore they are not a person. He says that we should look at abortion the same way, a fetus in the womb cannot think and cannot be self aware therefore we shouldn’t worry about killing it just like we don’t mind killing a cow to eat it. This means that abortion could be acceptable long after the baby is born or else we should be more concerned about killing plants and animals. (I stole/adapted this argument from Alvin Plantinga, a Christian philosopher arguing against Atheism).

Stupid People Die!

This is a claim that is saying that the only difference between animals and humans is intelligence. Peter Singer says a conservative estimate is that abortion would be ok until a month after the baby is born. However you could argue self-awareness or consciousness doesn’t happen until much later. 

Peter admits that you cannot draw a definite line of when self-awareness starts and even accepts that life begins at conception. Intelligence and this vague term “self-awareness” are on a sliding scale. I am more self-aware than a 10 year old and I’m guessing a 50 year old is more self-aware than me. Under this logic of intelligence and self-awareness or consciousness, you could really justify killing off anyone less intelligent than you. This argument leaves the mentally delayed very vulnerable. 

Pain for Pleasure

The other problem with this argument is that Singer argues that the tragedy of someone dying young is that their plans are ruined. That their potential to do good and make the world a better place is spoiled. However regardless of intelligence, this is exactly what makes a human fetus and an animal different. Although a fetus doesn’t have intelligence to make plans, it has the potential to do great things. Comparing a fetus to an animal is unfair because an animal can never dream, never plan, never change the world. The pain of losing someone young is the same pain as losing a baby in the womb, wanted or not. I can tell you that it is not the same pain as an animal dying and I think it’s insulting to those who have lost a baby in the womb to compare that to an animal. A fetus may not be self-aware yet, but we know that it will be eventually. Unless of course you are disabled in some way….


I think Utilitarianism needs its own blog to explain what exactly we mean and what exactly the problem is and how it relates toPeter Singer. On to part 2!


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